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IRAQ POLITICS PARALYSED AS MILITANTS GAIN GROUND Douri calls for liberation of Baghdad

DUBAI, July 13, (Agencies): A purported audio message from a close aide to late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein called on all Iraqis to join efforts to “liberate” the country and praised Sunni militants who led last month’s dramatic offensive through northern Iraq. The voice recording released on a website loyal to Saddam’s ousted Baath Party was said to have been made by Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most senior member of his entourage still at large following Saddam’s 2003 overthrow by a US-led invasion force.

Although elderly and reported to have been in poor health, Douri is believed to lead the Baathist militant group the Naqshbandi Army, one of several groups which supported the al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State in its lightning assault through Sunni provinces of north and west Iraq last month. “Join the ranks of the rebels who liberated half the country,” said the voice on the recording, which resembled previous tapes released in Douri’s name. “The liberation of Baghdad is around the corner.

Everyone should contribute, to the extent of his ability, to complete the liberation of the beloved country, because there is no honour or dignity without its liberation”. The Islamist-led offensive has been largely halted for now just north of the Iraqi capital. In the 15-minute tape, the speaker praised the “heroes and knights of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State” as well as other groups fighting the “Persian, Safavid colonialisation” of Iraq, a reference to the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But he also hinted at the increasingly evident divisions among the various groups fighting Maliki’s forces, saying it was important to put off their differences in the interests of unity. Within three weeks of taking control of the northern city of Mosul, Islamic State militants began arresting senior ex-military officers and members of the Baath Party, residents and relatives said. Iraq’s fractious parliament met Sunday and again failed to make any progress toward forming a new government, even as militants gained ground north of Baghdad in a renewed drive.

World powers and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have been piling pressure on MPs to put aside their differences, with the country facing a major jihadist-led onslaught that has overrun chunks of five provinces. But “no type of agreement was reached ... between the various blocs” at Sunday’s session, which was adjourned to Tuesday, acting parliament speaker Mahdi Hafez announced.

The latest stalemate came despite the announcement late Saturday of an agreement among Sunni Arab lawmakers on a candidate for Speaker, a post traditionally held by the minority group that must be filled before the government formation process can go ahead. Parliament’s United for Change, a Sunni grouping, said Dr Salim al-Juburi had been selected, but it went on to pledge not to accept incumbent premier Nuri al-Maliki for a third term. Former parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi called on Sunday for a vote on Juburi’s candidacy, but Hafez refused, saying not all blocs were in agreement, though there were more than enough MPs present to hold a vote.

The UN’s Iraq envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, had warned that “failing to move forward on electing a new Speaker, a new president and a new government risks plunging the country into chaos”. “It will only serve the interests of those who seek to divide the people of Iraq and destroy their chances for peace and prosperity.” Sunday’s session was the second time parliament has completely failed to make progress.

A July 1 meeting broke down when MPs traded barbs and enough failed to return after a break that the legislature was left short of a quorum. As the highly paid deputies kept up their squabbling, militants launched a renewed push, seizing two towns northeast of Baghdad, while major attacks west of the capital were stymied by security forces and allied tribesmen.

Militants attacked the town of Dhuluiyah, just 80 kms (50 miles) north of Baghdad, overrunning more than half of it and bombing three police stations, the local council headquarters, a court and a bridge, officials said. Six people, among them four policemen, were killed in the violence.

Bombings and shelling in the Baghdad area and Diyala province killed at least six more people, including a police brigadier general, officials said. Despite calls for a new government to help counter the militant offensive, prospects appeared dim for any speedy resolution of seemingly intractable differences over key appointments and other issues. Ties between the Baghdad government and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region have hit a new low, and Maliki has pledged to seek a third term despite some lawmakers insisting he step aside.

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